Screenwriting in a bilingual workshop
I’ve never been fully comfortable with my Spanish speaking skills. Sure, I can read my homework chapter on the series of assassinations in Mexican politics and write an essay on it. I can be a terrible person and understand most of an eavesdropped conversation about shampoo between a coworker and her Colombian mother. But actually speaking it is a whole other can of worms, and as “that person” in class who almost always knows the answer in class, not knowing exactly how to put that answer into words and freezing is really frustrating. That being said, when I saw a flyer for a Spanish/English screenwriting workshop downtown, I took my chances and showed up. While I’m still not fluent, it’s been a great experience.
The workshop, which runs until the weekend before Thanksgiving, is sponsored by La Poderosa Media Project. La Poderosa holds digital media workshops in the US and eight Latin American countries, where many communities don’t have access to the arts. This particular session, run by executive director Alejandra Zambrano and curriculum director Jorge García Nuñez, is made of a group here in Ithaca and a group in Santiago, Chile. At the end of the course, both groups will have at least one full script for a short film ready to swap: the Ithaca group will travel to Chile in January to film the Santiago script, and the Santiago group will come here in the spring to film ours.
Going into the workshop was a little intimidating. This is the second semester I’ve had Garcia Nuñez as a Spanish professor, so I knew about La Poderosa, but beyond my one semester of journalism work with Celtx, I knew nothing about scriptwriting, let alone scriptwriting for film, let alone scriptwriting for film in Spanish. Zambrano and Garcia Nuñez broke it down into digestible chunks, with each Saturday progressing into the next part of the process. As a writer, I personally enjoyed the beginning stages of story development and the creation of an idea from internal and external sources, like local myths or people watching on the Commons. After each activity, we’d all have to share what we wrote, no matter how silly it sounded (like that wolfman myth from second grade or my Cthulhu strawberry). Being able to laugh and bounce ideas off each other was a big confidence booster.
Considering the workshop was going to be a mix of both languages, I was also torn between wanting a more immersive experience and wanting to be able to actually participate. To my luck, our group turned out to be a small but diverse bunch ranging from students to native speakers, so we’ve been able to use a mix of Spanish, English, and codeswitching when phrases don’t translate well. Even just being around native speakers has helped, both because I feel obligated to speak in Spanish and because eavesdropping in this case is often crucial to understanding what’s going on. The ladies are very nice and will translate regional terms we students might not know, and we’ll try to explain words like “two-timing” or the noun use of “crazy.”
Everyone has been really supportive, not just in regard to language but in terms of cultural differences as well. One of our assigned scenes was the encounter between two characters on a bus, and while the characters would do little more than ask before sitting down next to a stranger in the States, an Ecuadorian person would likely introduce his- or herself. Sometimes the disconnect, though harmless, leads to some mildly embarrassing moments: when the stranger on the bus asked the main character about food, I wrote that the main character took a granola bar out of her bag before realizing that granola bars are probably not something an Ecuadorian would have on-hand as a snack food. Garcia Nuñez had a good laugh over it and gave me suggestions as to what the main character might have actually been carrying.
Even if I had not developed as a screenwriter, Spanish speaker and ciudadano mundial, just being around the workshop group has been a lot of fun. As a journalist, I enjoy listening to other people’s stories. The personality and diversity within the group has made for an interesting session every time. I’m also the only IC student there, so I’ve been able to meet a new peer group in the Cornell students who attend the workshop. Even with the variety of people, it’s not like the designations set us apart: we scarf down cookies and burritos together, we laugh at ridiculous scenes together, and we work together to produce an awesome screenplay.
Amanda Hutchinson is a junior journalism major and part-time ciudadano mundial. Email her at ahutchi2[at]ithaca.edu.